Limiting foreigners to buying would cut current real estate activity by half. A high-end property for sale in an urbanisation on the coast of Ciutadella in Minorca. | Josep Bagur Gomila
The urging of foreign buyer restrictions
On Tuesday, the Balearic parliament was presented with a Unidas Podemos motion for the prohibition of non-resident home-buying. This subject was therefore returning to the chamber where it first broke out in October last year. On that occasion, El Pi, a party of very different political complexion to Podemos, did the motion-presenting and gained the support of the house in urging the Balearic government to pursue restrictions, the reporting of which was somewhat misleading in that an impression was given that a law had been passed to this effect.
No law could have been passed last October and nor could it have been on Tuesday. Everyone knew in October, as they did on Tuesday, that the Balearic government has precisely zero powers to introduce some sort of ban. The urging has to pass up the legislative food chain to Brussels, where the chances of restrictions ever being adopted are frankly remote, regardless of what the Spanish government may or may not attempt during the period of Spain’s EU presidency over the second half of this year.
Prior to the debate, Podemos had critical words for the main coalition party, PSOE, suggesting that Francina Armengol and chums were rather too matey with estate agents. All is fair in love and pre-election, even for coalition partners and even when the matiness was in fact a PSOE belief that the Podemos motion would totally mislead the citizens into believing that the Balearic government has powers to legislate when it most definitely does not. In the end, PSOE agreed to back an amended motion. In essence, this was the same as El Pi’s in October. Urging of the government was thus proposed, this urging to be in collaboration with Madrid and Brussels.
When Europe has said no to property bans
If they had had time to digest it, parties in parliament might have taken note of a report that had been delivered to parliament by the Proinba property developers association. Written by a prestigious Madrid law firm, this highlighted the relevant legal issues and cases in Austria, Denmark and Hungary, where laws had applied restrictions that were subsequently rejected by the European Court.
Meanwhile, reporting surrounding parliament’s debate noted that estate agents in the Balearics had said that the possibility of a ban had already damaged their industry, with some foreigners deciding not to purchase. Well, this clearly hadn’t been the case; not according to the College of Registrars at any rate. Its latest figures indicated that there was a 4.7% increase in sales to foreign buyers in the final quarter of 2022, there having been a 3.2% decrease in the third quarter. Moreover, the total number of foreign purchases for 2022 as a whole - 6,133 - was the highest ever.
The Golden Visa and the visa waiver
Still on all the foreign-buying debate, the Golden Visa and questions surrounding it have resurfaced. This visa was introduced in Spain in 2013. The thinking was that it would help to boost foreign investment, and so it came with an attractive means of getting Spanish residency and in record time. Spend half a million euros or more on a property, and the visa will be handed out.
The concerns have always existed. The European Commission has warned member states about the possibility of money laundering, while the visa is said to have contributed to property speculation. The subject is back in the spotlight as Portugal has announced that it will do away with the scheme. There have been calls for the Spanish government to do the same, with the Balearic government spokesperson, Iago Negueruela, among the latest to say that he would favour the scrapping of the visa.
In the Balearics, 314 of these visas were granted in 2022. Nationally, the total was 3,783, with Alicante and Malaga among other provinces where large numbers of visas are given. All attractive to British buyers, the UK heads the list of Golden Visa holders, a consequence of Brexit.
The British, meanwhile, face having to get a visa that isn’t a visa. The ETIAS European Travel Information and Authorisation System is a visa waiver. However one wishes to define it, ETIAS comes into effect from November this year. Costing all of seven quid (free to under-18s and over-70s) and lasting three years, a load of nonsense is being said about its potential harmful effect. The latest contributors to this are the Mesa del Turismo, a body that regularly causes chaos when it comes to translation. It isn’t the “tourism board” or anything of the sort. Rather, it is a group (or table, if you prefer) of leading businesspeople in the tourism and travel industry who are of the view that ETIAS poses a threat to Spain’s tourism competitiveness.
A record summer for Mallorca’s tourism?
One can’t say too much about Spain’s competitiveness, but Mallorca’s - in a post-Brexit, pre-ETIAS environment - appears to be just fine. Jet2, recently reported as having overtaken Tui as the UK’s leading tour operator, has announced almost 50,000 additional seats for flights to Palma this summer - 650,000 in all. And it isn’t only the UK which is increasing the number of seats. There is an average increase of ten per cent for the four main summer months of June to September, while the total programmed over the period of airlines’ summer schedules (late March to late October) is getting on for 31 million.
Arrivals and departures, if these seats were to all be occupied, this would mean that the 29.7 million passengers for the whole of 2019, a Palma record, would be exceeded. Will there be a record summer for tourism? Maybe there will be.
The prospect of a record summer is most certainly not what the Citizens’ Assembly for the Climate in Mallorca would have in mind. A Balearic government-backed initiative in association with the university, this assembly of sixty people has met on five occasions to discuss what Mallorca needs before 2030 in order to face up to the climate emergency. It has come up with 56 proposals that the university will publish in full next week. But it is known that limiting the number of tourists is one of the most highly rated proposals.
The culture of the Gesa building and Rafa Nadal
Culture is another alternative tourism product and Palma could well benefit from cultural tourism were the problematic Gesa building to be devoted to culture. In electoral campaigning mode, the Partido Popular’s candidate for Palma mayor, one-time tourism minister Jaime Martínez, has been pitching the party’s cultural aspirations, with the Gesa building a key element among those to turn Palma into “the capital of culture and art in the Mediterranean”.
Although there are other art museums in Palma, e.g. Es Baluard, Martínez finds it “incomprehensible” that Palma doesn’t have a museum of modern and contemporary art “at an international level”. The Gesa building could be converted into such a museum. Maybe, or is this just another in the long list of ideas to decide what to do with the building?
The centre of Manacor isn’t necessarily a place that is high on a tourist’s itinerary. But this might be about to change, thanks to Manacor’s most famous son (and Mallorca’s), Rafael Nadal. Following his 14th French Open win last year, a council meeting gave unanimous approval to there being a statue to Nadal. The town hall now has a sketch of the proposed statue, which will be sited opposite the family home in the square off which there is also has the parish church. The design has aroused some discussion. It shows Rafa sitting down next to a young boy version of himself. Should it not be more dynamic? A serving Rafa? A Rafa displaying his forehand or backhand? The player is to be consulted. He may have other ideas.
Was Madeleine McCann seen in Cala d'Or?
By Jason Moore
British police, searching for the missing Madeleine McCann, contacted their Mallorcan counterparts after a British couple reported that they had seen her in Cala d'Or in the summer of 2008 a year after she was kidnapped.
The British couple, who were on holiday on the island, claimed that they had seen Madeleine with two women. The little girl was wearing sun-glasses but fitted Madeleine's description. The couple said that the two women had a dark complexion while Maddie was very fair. They spotted the three on two occasions and informed police who were unable to find them. However, searches were carried out in apartment complexes. The British police also contacted their Mallorca counterparts over the alleged sighting. A year later a BBC camera crew, who were making a documentary on the disappearance, went to Cala d'Or.
Can't afford to holiday in Soller Valley anymore
By Shirley Roberts
I must admit I am perplexed and looking for logic. The chatter down our way these past weeks has been about price increases from airlines, hotels and restaurants. Many sad contributors to the debate saying they can’t afford to holiday in the Soller Valley anymore as it has priced itself out of their reach. These were largely friends used to frequent travels and high spending. This year everything came under their scrutiny from self-catering apartments to luxury villas. The price rises were just too high.
Against that came example after example where this wasn’t the case. One person following the thread sent me his receipts for his flight and car hire for March 2023, coming in at half the price of last year. Others told me of Villas and Hotels who have imposed an energy surcharge but left all basic prices the same. The Tour Operators will all tell you what they are doing to preserve family summer holidays. They make it easy to pay by instalments and initial large deposits seem to be a thing of the past. This is not a one size fits all problem. There are two sides to this story.
The coffee debate is a good yardstick measure every year. 1.80 to 2.50 seems to be the going rate this year in Soller and in Palma. Surprisingly these prices all seem cheap to those from the UK and most Scandinavian countries. They don’t really understand our gripe when the price hits 2.50.
When tourism was young, travellers got used to their currency going a long way, because everything about Spain was deemed ‘cheap’. This included the labour costs and salaries which were sometimes even paid in black money. The tourist in those days enjoyed the price differentials and kept returning for more. They couldn’t holiday in their own country for the little they were paying in Spain. Those days are thankfully gone, and minimum wages and legislation has helped the salaries in Spain to climb. It will take years for the older tourist to shake off the notion that Spain ‘should be cheap’. That just doesn’t work anymore with rental and food costs in the Balearics on a par with London. How can Spain be cheap?
Businesses sit down with the spreadsheet and work out the costs of raw materials, rent of premises, energy costs and staff costs, then out of this comes the price necessary to charge the customer. When this exercise is done, they look at ways they can cut costs to make the end price, more acceptable. For some local friends they have decided to close their restaurants and open a ‘Take Away’ instead. Getting rid of staff costs is the only way they see of balancing the books. Others choose to go so ‘high end’ that it is only the super-rich who can afford to eat with them.
There are only a few more weeks left for the talking. The Soller Valley has a 10 month season and it’s just started. Half terms fill the second half of February and then the March walkers and cyclists will see us into Easter. All the calculations talked about are almost done now and the price lists sent to the printers.
I will be fascinated as people arrive and tell the stories of how much they have paid and what their experience has been. Restaurants and Hotels who struggled last year finding staff can no longer use that as an excuse for mediocre service this year. I know of many companies who are in staff training mode and looking to provide increased excellence for the increased prices they will charge in 2023.
We start the year with there being two sides to every story, and so it will be at the end. I really don’t want to say goodbye to old friends and hope, by shopping around, they will still find prices in the Soller Valley which work for them. The chatter will be very interesting that’s for sure.
The waiting game at the chemist
By Peter Clover
The next time I visit a ‘farmacia’ (chemist) to pick up a prescription or buy a packet of cotton buds, I think I will take a packed lunch and make a day of it. Unlike Boots back home in Old Blighty, where you can graze the aisles at your leisure, fill up a basket, then casually wander over to ‘dispensing’, drop off a prescription, pick up the medication almost immediately, then pay for the lot within minutes at a cash desk!
Here in Mallorca, you can almost guarantee that for every person inside the chemist you must calculate an average waiting time of around fifteen minutes. For example - in our small, local farmacia, with only one person serving behind the counter, 6 people ahead of you could easily represent a one and a half hour wait! And I’m not kidding. So why does it take so long?
Well, once the weather has been discussed, along with the welfare of all the ‘nietas’ and ‘nietos’ (grandchildren), the ‘sobrinos’ and ‘sobrinas’ (nephews and nieces), the ‘tias’ (aunties) and Tio Tom Cobbly and all, there is also the possibility that the pharmacy telephone might ring and cause even further delays. The culture here in Mallorca happily embraces lengthy telephone conversations which interrupt the serving process, whether personal or otherwise! And customers seem quite happy to just wait, and wait, and wait; for here in Mallorca they are blissfully graced with an amazing amount of patience, along with the ability to sit around, doing nothing, for ages!
The actual prescriptions themselves also seem to take forever to process and dispense, especially if there is an elderly person involved with a long list of medications on order. Some customers actually look as if they might possibly be starting up their own drugs dispensary, leaving the farmacia laden with carrier bags. Each prescription dispensed requires a bar code to be cut physically from the packaging with surgical precision, usually a Stanley knife, which is then sellotaped to a printed form and signed off. Considering 2023 embraces a digital world of advanced technology, one might assume a bar code could simply be scanned and recorded on a contemporary device. But then this is Mallorca and they like to do things their way!
But it’s not just the farmacias where you might expect to wait in line for hours. Both banks and post offices are also great places to camp out in for the day! Our local post office in Inca has a digital ticket system (like most), so you work out roughly how long it might be from the current number displayed above the counter, then go and do a bit of shopping, and come back in time to buy a stamp. However, if you are holding number 200 in your hand and they are only displaying numero 20, then you might as well go to the beach for the day, and still get back in time to post that annoying letter!
Banks of course have always been a little confusing, with different counters and desks for various transactions. And people don’t seem to queue in banks, they just hover, looking suspiciously at the uninitiated foreigner, as if they might jump in front of you at the first opportunity and purloin your turn. So without an apparent queue, how does taking your fair turn in a bank, possibly work? Traditionally, when a new customer enters the bank, (this system also works in other establishments where a queue seems non-existent), they simply ask “Quien es el ultimo?” (in a nutshell – who is the last one?) That way each person knows exactly who they are going to follow in line for the cashier. It’s a simple, yet brilliantly effective system, as you don’t have to watch anyone else in the bank except the person whose turn is immediately before yours. No standing in a tired line! You can sit down and get on with Facebook, or flick through Instagram whilst keeping a beady, watchful eye on that person whose turn is directly before yours. As soon as they make their move, you can perk up knowing that you’re next!
But beware! Even when you have taken your turn and are standing in front of the cashier, you might be accosted by a ‘butter!’ and that has nothing to do with anything spread on toast. It’s simply someone who rudely butts in to ask the cashier a quick question. Not even a polite ‘excuse me’, just a straight, uneducated butt into your private conversation. And the worse thing is they just get away with it. Whoever you are dealing with suddenly ignores you and starts dealing with the ‘butter’, and their ready excuse is that it’s only a tiny query and won’t take long. Well, ‘butt out’, I’m being served not you, so wait your turn!
The bakery is another great place to waste a morning. There is no urgency whatsoever to serve customers with their ‘pan Mallorquin’. Having a good chin-wag and sharing a bit of local gossip is a priority. And the majority are very happy to do so as they wait their turn, often chipping in with their own version of events. The Mallorcans specialise in turning simple, everyday events like banking, posting a letter, shopping etc into a social gathering. So, if you find yourself in a long queue, do what I’m going to do in future. Take sandwiches and a flask. Happy waiting!
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